MILAN — “My alarm went off at 6:30 this morning and I said, ‘That’s it, it’s starting,’’’ Robert Polet, the president and chief-executive-in-waiting of Gucci Group said at the house’s spring 2005 men’s wear show here Tuesday night.

Polet, a former Unilever executive, officially starts Thursday. An unknown in the fashion world, he didn’t exactly make a splash at the show — Polet lingered behind the last row among the standing-room-only crowd while his bosses, Pinault-Printemps-Redoute ceo and interim Gucci Group president Serge Weinberg and Artemis chairman François-Henri Pinault, sat front-row.

“This is a much better view,” Polet said. “I can see everything.”

Polet has been quietly touring Gucci facilities over the last few months, ever since his appointment was announced, and it’s clear he is eager to get rolling. “This is the most exciting job change of my career,” beamed the relaxed, tan and smiling executive.

Meanwhile, Gucci offered further evidence of what its collections will look like in the post-Tom Ford and Domenico De Sole era.

For John Ray, the alarm went off three months ago when PPR offered him the job as Gucci men’s wear creative director. Ray, along with his two co-creative directors, Alessandra Facchinetti and Frida Giannini, who oversee women’s and accessories, respectively, must all face the legacy of Ford while discovering their own united voice.

Although he worked under Ford for almost eight years, Ray was understandably anxious before his debut solo effort.

“I’m kind of nervous but I’m very excited,” Ray told WWD and its brother publication DNR backstage before the show. “I’ve been working with Tom for a long time, so it’s not exactly new. I’m not coming from the outside.”

Although he has strong ties to a Ford-driven Gucci, Ray sought to subtly infuse his own vision without betraying the essence of the brand. Everyone entered the show space expecting a sea change. In the end, the scene stayed true to Gucci, with the same seating, show time, press people and mood, yet, while everything seemed the same, it was somehow different.Guests entering the group’s historic show space noted such small changes as potted palm trees lining the outside entrance and chocolate brown interiors replacing Ford’s signature black. As the house lights dimmed before the start of the show, the crowd gave a salutary round of applause, acknowledging the historic first step in the new Gucci. Following the show, Ray came out for just a moment, never actually stepping onto the runway, before quickly returning backstage. Later in the night, Gucci organized an invitation-only intimate cocktail in Ray’s honor.

The collection evoked a distant wanderlust with heavily embellished tunics, silk caftans, brown jacquard tuxedo jackets and hand-stitched knits. Colors softened to pinks, fleshes and white, while shapes eased into loose forms. Most evident, however, was Ray’s toned-down take on Gucci’s intrinsic sexiness. The hypersexy nature so intertwined with Ford gave way to softer sensuality.

“I think it’s just an evolution. We’re trying to move from the Nineties into the new decade,” Ray said with a discernable Scottish accent. “The Nineties were a different kind of sexy. I think that aggressive sex is maybe over and it’s more about sensuality, which can also be sexy.”

Referencing the collection before the show, Ray summed up how fashion is, by its nature, about change: “It will be different,” he said. “Even if Tom were here it would be different because it’s an evolution.”

— With contributions by Amanda Kaiser and Luisa Zargani

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